The Pothole Problem

Potholes Are More Than a Nuisance, They Also Cause Vehicle Damage and Safety Issues

In this In The Mix blog, we look at a problem that is synonymous with winter: potholes. For those of us living in the northern part of the U.S., we deal with potholes almost every time we enter a car (unless the road is newly paved).  Potholes are more than a nuisance. They can also cause damage to your tires, wheels, suspension, and alignment. Most importantly, potholes can be a major safety issue for not only drivers, but cyclists and pedestrians as well. In trying to avoid them, accidents and injuries often occur.

Why are there so many potholes and what can we do about them? Below, we try to answer these questions as well as look briefly at how asphalt is made.

How do Potholes Form?

Potholes are formed when water seeps into cracks in the pavement and freezes, expanding and breaking the asphalt. When the water thaws, the resulting void causes the asphalt to sink and form a depression (i.e., pothole). This “freeze-thaw” cycle is repeated over time, creating larger and deeper potholes.

How Potholes Are Repaired?

Most have seen maintenance crews patching potholes by shoveling asphalt from a dump truck into the pothole. They start the process by removing any debris, rocks, dirt, asphalt chunks and standing water. They may also cut the edges of the hole to make it symmetrical and prevent further cracking.

When the hole is completely prepped, the crew typically fills it with cold or hot asphalt mix and compacts it with a tamper or a vehicle. Cold mixes are the easiest but not very durable. They are typically used for temporary repairs. Hot mixes and other thermal-based repair techniques that rework the asphalt are more durable and attractive.

How Asphalt is Made

Refined asphalt is made from the distillation of crude oil. Asphalt is the heavy residue of this process. Several “lighter” products made from crude oil distillation include paraffin, gasoline, naphtha, lubricating oil, kerosene, and diesel oil.

Following the distillation process, asphalt may be blended with other products to alter its curing rate (slow, medium, rapid), modified with polymers or other materials to improve performance (e.g., better crack sealing) or emulsified with water and other agents to facilitate pumping and spraying.

Per above, most asphalt used in paving projects is either hot-mix (heavy use) or cold-mix (light/medium use and patching; typically blended or emulsified). Hot-mix asphalts are made using a batch process mix aggregate (e.g., gravel) with asphalt cement in a pugmill. Heat is applied to each component before mixing to remove moisture from the aggregate and to make the asphalt more fluid. Drum-mixing processes heat and blend the aggregate with asphalt at the same time in a drum mixer.

How to Prevent Potholes and Minimize Related Car Damage

The best way to prevent potholes in general is to keep the road in good condition. This includes regularly repairing and sealing cracks, removing debris/trash and maintaining/improving drainage systems. Unfortunately, the cost of these measures is often beyond available funding and potholes often worsen and multiply.

Since funding shortfalls make pothole encounters likely, there are several things drivers can do to help reduce car damage caused by them. These include:

  1. Slow down to reduce impact and prevent or minimize tire, suspension and other vehicle damage.
  2. Keep tires properly inflated (underinflated tires are more prone to damage from potholes).
  3. Steer slowly and carefully around potholes to avoid losing control.

Should you hit a pothole, inspect your car for signs of damage. Inspect tires and wheels for bulges, cuts, cracks or dents. Check your wheel alignment. Listen for suspension rattles, squeaks, and clunks. If you notice any problems, have a mechanic do further inspection.

Finally, report potholes to your local authorities or road agency. This will help them identify and prioritize the areas that need repair.

Potholes affect millions of people every year that use or cross roads. Maintaining roads better helps prevent the formation of potholes and limits their impact on both vehicles and people.

For More Information

For more information about how ProQuip tank agitators can be used in asphalt production, email applications@proquipinc.com or call us at 330-468-1850.